Sunday, March 12, 2006

Distant View of Lowestoft

In looking at early oil sketches from nature there is a sense that they are pure views unencumbered by picturesque formulae, not only fresher than academic landscapes, but also offering some kind of direct window on the past. This is particularly true when the painting is a simple objective study of a hill, a clump of trees or some scattered buildings, rather than familiar tourist views such as Tivoli, Posillipo, or the Baths of Caracalla. Eighteenth century sketches pre-dating photography are particularly interesting in this respect and the works of Thomas Jones (1742-1803), Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes (1750-1819) and Simon Denis (1755-1812) have grown in reputation over the last fifty years. Collectors have also discovered more obscure painters, like Thomas Kerrich (1748-1828), a Cambridge antiquarian and librarian who was best known as a draughtsman. One oil sketch by Kerrich is on long term loan to the National Gallery, a Distant View of Lowestoft from the South (possibly 1794), part of the Gere collection of oil sketches. It is a simple view of a bay on a rather grey English day, with broad expanses of sand, sea and sky and very little topographical detail. As Christopher Riopelle noted in the catalogue to A Brush with Nature: The Gere Collection of Landscape Oil Sketches (1999), ‘the simplicity and directness of this image suggest a precocious and original approach to landscape. The work of a trained artist, but not essentially a painter, it is at the same time remarkably unfettered by a reliance on conventional landscape formulae.’ 

Pompeo Battoni, Portrait of Thomas Kerrich, c. 1774
Source: Wikimedia Commons

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